Interview With Ordinary People With Extraordinary Dreams
TravelClef and SG Music Group are the fruits of labour of Benjamin and Edmund. As young aspiring entrepreneurs back then, surely they dreamt of enjoying the benefits of their hard work as quickly as possible. But the journey was by no means easy, nor smooth-sailing. Hand in hand with their teammates Melody and Michelle, they nurtured the businesses painstakingly and turned challenges into stepping stones to achieve greater results. This time, let's hear more from them directly as they reveal more about themselves and the 2 companies!
During your early days of being an entrepreneur, what were some of your worries you feel that you couldn’t overcome?
Ben: One of our worries is that clients think we are too young (even now at the age of 29). Since most of our clients we meet are high-ranking officials at MNCs, we were worried that they would look down on us. It was worse during the early days when we were just 21! Back then we had to somewhat “fake” our age a little by pretending that we were slightly older!
Also, money is a constant worry for entrepreneurs, regardless of experience. Initially we couldn’t make much money- even when we did, we would put it back into the company. So for the first 2 years, we didn’t draw any salary, and during the third year our monthly salary was probably about $250. Edmund graduated one year before I did so he contemplated finding a job. But due to my worry that he wouldn’t want to continue TravelClef, I made him this promise:
"If you don’t give up and give me one more year till I graduate, I assure you that both of us would draw a graduate salary by then."
And we really accomplished that!
What do you think are the key factors to earn the trust of those who are thinking of confirming a team building workshop with us?
Edmund: I think our portfolio is quite important because that's the “first impression” of us, so we try to show, to the best of our abilities, our services and past experiences. We have many videos to convey that our programs will be engaging despite being uncommon (not a lot of people use music to conduct team building). That will earn their trust that we are qualified and experienced.
Ben: I also think the way we plan our workshops to fit team building deliverables is crucial. The difference between team bonding and team building is the meaning and value we bring behind the fun. We design our workshops such that we can please both the management and the employees. Letting employees have fun is not difficult for us, but to highlight certain organisational skills during our workshops, I think that brings more value to the teams and companies. Our results speak for themselves and our clients speak for us- thus we think highly of both portfolio and customer feedbacks.
Edmund: I believe there is a strong positive correlation between happiness and productivity. At the same time it shows that the companies care about employees’ wellness. Our weekly lessons in offices (like at Citibank, ANZ, OCBC) bring employees to another realm and take their mind off work. By learning something new, they would actually be able to have more fun at work and that could lead to better productivity.
A memorable experience I remember was, after the 8 beginner classes we taught at ANZ, the employees performed in their company town hall in front of 2000 people! While it was satisfying, that was a reminder of why we do what we do. Even now they are very bonded and would even meet up to play music together!
What do you value strongly with regards to your job?
Michelle: I value quality. Customers paid for their products, so I think it is only right that we ensure good quality before selling. For example, we always conduct detailed quality checks to ensure our instruments are of good condition before I send it to them. I will also seek approval from Ben and Edmund so that I know I am on the right track.
What is a personality trait of yours that was of great help while managing SG Music Group/ TravelClef?
Melody: I am well versed in my knowledge; that means I can get back to their questions more quickly. I have musical background in violin and piano, so it’s easier for me to answer questions related to those instruments. As for more in-depth questions about guitar, I would approach Edmund and Ben. I can also multi-task well; in this competitive industry we must be fast so we don’t get taken over. In fact I think the ability to multi-task is equally, if not more, important than experience!
Michelle: I am quite organised and like to be in control of things. I will plan my task for the day and meet my deadlines. I think this is quite important because although I work behind the scenes as a supporting role, it is still a pivotal role in the team!
How necessary do you think having “chill time” is in the office?
Melody: I think it is important, as long as it improves our productivity. In fact we encourage short naps so that you can function throughout the remaining time. I know of a company where employees can meet earlier for breakfast, and also have a specific time for lunch and tea break together. In our company, we are quite casual too!
Our lessons have the objective of teaching them “forward planning”. In what ways do you think we plan forward too?
Michelle: I think quite importantly of back-up plans. For myself, I plan out an events calendar that I put up at the start of every month and print our projects overviews. I also assign deadlines to follow and plan deliveries at least 1 week ahead, in case of unexpected changes.
How do you think that SG Music Group and TravelClef giving corporate workshops can blend together?
Melody: Both are music related, so if students want to continue after corporate classes, they can go through our agency to find teachers. Sometimes individuals will recommend our workshops for corporate team building. The set up of TravelClef was carefully thought through so both would complement each other.
What do you think is a value that everyone has, to ensure success of our workshops?
Michelle: Teamwork! I think it is helpful to have a team briefing beforehand and to assign roles. Especially at the start of workshops it usually can be quite chaotic, but if we know our own roles then we can settle down more quickly. If I don't know how to handle a situation, they will always help me. They never chided me for my wrongdoings; instead they will make sure I move forward and remain kind.
We each have our strengths and weaknesses, and we complement so that we fill in each other’s gaps. Edmund’s train of thought is very clear, so his instructions are easy to understand. Ben is more creative and he conducts more, so I always ask him questions.
What is a motto you always stick to for work?
Ben: As an entrepreneur, I want to seek self-growth. Even though I was bad at things like Photoshop and Excel, I constantly tried to improve myself. Just early this year, I studied a lot about Excel, went through countless forums and videos tutorials. Now I can program long scripts! If you want to bring more value to the company, then you will always have to keep improving. You should choose the things you want to be good at, and just go for it- don’t be afraid to try.
Edmund: Say what you mean and mean what you say! This is something I always try to stick to; it’s the essence of being a good working individual- to be a man of your words.
Recently, there was a child who signed up for the June Holiday Strum-Away workshop, but I had to cancel due to the lack of sign ups on that particular day. But the mother had already promised her that she would be coming for it- in a sense it is like us promising her that she would be coming to a ukulele class and getting a pink ukulele. I didn’t want to disappoint her because of the last minute change, so I made an effort to send her a pink ukulele. At that time I felt that she lost the opportunity to learn music, so I gave it to her in the hopes that she would eventually learn music (hopefully with us)!
When do you feel most satisfied at work?
Ben: When I conduct my workshops and bring happiness to people. Many working adults have wanted to learn music but probably because of financial situations, they never had a chance to do so, despite their great passion. Right now, they have the money but not the time. The working adults I teach always express their awe that they can play a music instrument in 2 hours. I also have students attending weekly lessons in offices, who always look forward to the next class. That’s also why a lot of our weekly lessons are on Mondays, because we chase away the Monday blues!
Edmund: It is always on the last lesson of corporate classes. They would come together in groups to perform, which is my favourite part. 8 weeks ago, they didn’t know how to play music, but now they are playing a piece of song, singing and laughing together with their colleagues!
The TravelClef team has never lost sight of the reason for starting the companies- to bring music to everyone. In order to continue doing a great job, we are consistently improving and upgrading ourselves. The team's diligence and commitment have not been wasted as proven from the smiles on the faces of participants and ever-improving results. Despite being a humble company, we will always continue to strive and materialise bigger dreams!